Miles Today: 13.3
Mile Marker: 2,184.5
I've been in a confused, euphoric, daze all day. Part of that is poor sleep and exhaustion from the last two days, but the rest is an overwhelming rush of HOLY SHIT! I'M ACTUALLY ABOUT TO PULL IT OFF! That rush is quickly followed with a sense of panic. I have no idea how I'm going to feel tomorrow, but I know it's going to be many things at once.
This morning I hiked to the Abol Bridge Camp Store for breakfast and a few provisions for tomorrow. I saw Neo there with two other hikers. Neo is formally known as Nemo and is one of the hikers who hung out with me on Big Bald back in North Carolina when I got off trail to visit my parents. They were working out some plans for today and also plan on summiting tomorrow. A few hours after I got on trail I realized what those plans were. They rented floats and were floating the river next to the trail. Excellent idea.
I got to the ranger station at Baxter State Park around 2:30 and encountered something very strange. A single digit Katahdin sign. At the beginning of the trail I was doing everything I could to avoid seeing those signs. After the halfway point I enjoyed watching them count down. But a single digit kind of blew my mind. At a certain point waking up and hiking every day became less a goal and more my way of life. Ticking off states and moving along. Getting to Maine was amazing, but it hadn't fully registered. That 5.3 miles to Katahdin sign hit me like a Mack Truck. This is ready happening. Baring me breaking something in that 5.3 mile stretch I'm going to have hiked from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Absolutely bananas.
A moment after I saw that sign I rounded the corner and saw the Katahdin Spring Campground. The campground is a series of four shelters like all of the other ones in the back country along the trail. Then I saw something more mind bending than the single digit. Each one of them had a car parked next to it. People drove out here and rented three wall lean-tos. No HVAC, no electricity, no wifi, and no fourth wall. They were getting the same experience I've been having for the last six months, but they were able to drive right up and paid for the privilege. Some of them are probably summiting Katahdin tomorrow. It really highlighted how ridiculous and unnecessary this trip is. I couldn't help but laughing.
While I was hanging out waiting for the ranger to get back I saw Rabbit who had just finished. I congratulated her and asked how it felt. We chatted about how weird it was to be finished, the trail I have ahead, and the journey in general. Her mom and one of her mom's friends also summited with her and were about an hour behind. They wished me an early congratulations and headed off. Shortly after Rabbit appeared with a grocery bag and said she had some “juice” for me. Alcohol is prohibited in the park, so that's why I'm glad the bag didn't contain the bladder from a box of wine with a few leftover drinks. I thanked her and we said goodbye again. I only met her a few times, but it was weird saying good bye knowing it was for good. There are a few of my friends who have already finished, and it still feels like they are with me just a few days ahead on the trail. But they aren't. There isn't any more trail. Most of these people I will never see or talk to again, but we've all shared something so insanely incredible. We'll always be close in that way.
Shortly after I decided to take a nap while I waited for the Ranger to check me in. Just as I dozed off I was jolted awake by something grabbing my shoulder. I opened my eyes to see a chipmunk parkouring off my arm and into the nearest bush. We locked eyes and exchanged a mutual “what the hell was that about” look before it took off. First time on this trip wildlife has literally reached out and touched me. Well unless you count mosquito bites, ant bites, no see um bites, black fly bites, spider bites, wasp stings, overgrown brush, and nettles.
Once I got checked in I headed to the thru hiker camp to settle in. There was only one other person there named Sassafras. I'd never met him before. We started chatting about the journey so far, and I learned he had also done the approach trail from Amicalola Falls. I asked him if he had to do it over again if he would do the nine mile approach trail (I wouldn't). He said “If I had it to do over again I wouldn't do the AT.” Well said Sassafras, well said. Maybe we all should have paid to rent a lean-to and cut to the chase. Too late now.
Around 5:00 I heard some familiar voices roll into camp. Cheese and Einstein caught back up. We'll all get to summit together!